Displacement Blues: Gutter for Punishment

By Tarin Towers

“Displacement Blues” is a project by San Francisco writer Tarin Towers, who spent almost a year and a half fighting to keep her rent-controlled apartment in San Francisco’s Mission District, a neighborhood on the forefront of the extreme gentrification taking place in a city that has—gradually and then all at once—become the most expensive place to live in the United States. “Displacement Blues” began its life as an email newsletter on TinyLetter, and Lumpen is excitedly publishing this mini-magazine in its entirety starting this week. (Future installations of “Displacement Blues” will run on Fridays.)

A little background to catch you up on the story: Tarin has spent the last several weeks housesitting at various apartments around the Mission District as she looks for a new room to call home. Technically homeless, Tarin is housed by friends for the foreseeable future. We hope you’ll join her as she navigates the waters of displacement in San Francisco. Previous issues can be found in the Displacement Blues archive.

The proprietors of the guest room in this charming beat-up artists’ flat—my abode until Sunday—are away doing charitable work in Cambodia for the tech company they both work for. They got gay married earlier this year, and I was delighted to perform in their after-ceremony variety show. (Yes, I know they simply got “married,” but I’m still rather thrilled that two men are finally granted this right and privilege.)

Anyway, a mutual friend was in town from South Africa this week, and he asked if he could drop off a wedding gift for them while he was in town and they were away.

Sure, of course, no problem. I was hanging out elsewhere in the Mission, and he swung by in an Uber that looked exactly like a Yellow Cab, except without the license and the insurance. I was expecting, you know, a set of coasters or a gravy boat or something else that I could tuck into my backpack, but was instead presented with a 15-pound fine wool blanket from Lesotho that is apparently used in both initiation ceremonies and for keeping horses warm. Hooray!

Let me note here that today was the first warm day we’ve had in San Francisco in over a month; for the first time since weather records began, May was colder than January here. By warm, I mean it was 65 degrees, but the sun strode out on its balcony for more than a few minutes, so it felt downright hot out for a while there. (When I was a kid in Appalachia and the temps would break 50, everyone ran around in shirt sleeves even if there was still snow on the ground.)

Bottom line is I was not going to walk around with a wool blanket over my arms like I might have a week ago. I plopped it into a clean brown grocery bag, finished up what I was doing, and went outside to sit in the sunlight while I killed some time on wifi before my weekly therapy appointment. I had some ranting to do (about which see more below), so I sat on the sidewalk outside the Mission Branch Library reading and tweeting. Beside me on the pavement were my beat-up backpack and said brown bag containing said brown blanket.

I didn’t think much about my presentation, but I was writing about homelessness in San Francisco and then a guy hopped off his bike and swore at me, dropped off his video or whatever, came back out, and muttered at me again as he got on his bike. I didn’t look at his face, but I could have sworn he said, “Jesus Christ, Tarin” as he rode away.

Was this an acquaintance, embarrassed (for me?) to see me sitting on the sidewalk with a blanket in a bag like I was preparing to sleep out? That was an odd thought.

Whenever I consider my plight, I remind myself how lucky I am. I am not going to have to sleep outside, aside from any camping-type situation I might embark on.

I’m here in this cozy flat with the projection screen and the big concrete backyard with the lemon tree until Sunday. Then I move into a spacious modern flat with a projection screen and a big gravel backyard with a lemon tree. Life is okay on the move. Still looking for a room of one’s own. Keep your eyes peeled for me.

Celebrations, in order

On June 1, 1995, I moved into my first apartment in San Francisco. So I just marked my 20th anniversary of living here, even though I’m not sure whether I actually live here.

See my Facebook post about this | Read some tweets about this

Send me a postcard or a treat: PO Box 40764, SF CA 94140

I also celebrated 8 years without a drink or a drug. It’s been a wild ride. I’m still on it.

Gleaner’s Index: The Week in Numbers

Amount earned from selling three articles of clothing my ex-roommates gave me: $41.80

Rolls of pennies given me by my last ex: 6

Value: $3

Amount purportedly in a Zip-Loc bag taped shut and left on my dresser: $8

Value of coins picked up in final sweep of 1084 South Van Ness’s floor: $1.24

Value of coins picked up in preceding sweeps: $7.12


Permits granted for the total remodel of a unit in the same building as my current housesit: 0

Permits applied for: 0

Permits required: At least 3


Minimum price of a jar of jam at Bi-Rite Market: $9

Of a bar of chocolate: $9

Of a wedge of cheese: $9*

Minimum wage in San Francisco: $12.25


Price per pound of almonds via CostCo business delivery to San Francisco: $6.86

Via CostCo.com nationwide: $7.33

To Morrow, GA: $6.82

Via Amazon Grocery: $7.87

Graduation, Demarcation


My understanding is that it’s gauche, somehow, to keep bragging about the accomplishments of one’s youth, even if they’re impressive, so I don’t exactly go around saying all the time that I was the Valedictorian of my high school, but there! I said it. In my speech, which I had to submit before delivering, I quoted Madeleine L’Engle saying something about choosing who you use for your mirrors; I exhorted people that they didn’t have to assume their destiny, that they could choose whatever path they wanted, without actually screaming at them to get out of the tiny towns they’d maybe never leave if they didn’t start leaving now. Anyway, I closed my speech with this quote from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, hands down my favorite movie in high school. It’s on a plaque or sign board or something in a gift shop on Valencia Street right now. “Life moves pretty fast; if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you might miss it.” STILL TRUE. See selfie below.


On the street where I’m staying, there’s a side street that’s not even half a block long, called Bird Street. There’s a community garden there. On the corner, however, there’s a fancy Italian restaurant that “locals” love and locals think is pretentious and overpriced. Someone tagged the back door of the restaurant with the name of the nearby alley, and one reason I love this particular piece of graffiti is that the handwriting is delightful. Contrast the scrawl on the door itself. I sometimes want to carry a hand stamp for tagging graffiti; it would say “Your handwriting sucks.”

advice for men (I always have some):

Selfie of the Week: Honk


So here I am the Saturday before I moved out, at the Light House at Point Reyes. A dear one asked me if I could get away, I deserved to get away, for a day trip and I said BUT WHAT ABOUT MY PACKING and he said Well I’d Hate to Get in the Way of Packing and I said Hmm, You’re Probably Right, and he was right, we had a great day, even with the walking down 300 steps and back up, the warning that visiting the lighthouse was a strenuous excursion not for the faint of heart, most literally, and at one point he said I Don’t Understand Why Everyone Doesn’t Live in Northern California and I said Jesus Christ, Don’t Make That a Wish. Anyway, this is an antique fog horn. Point Reyes is the foggiest light house in the world. So: we have the foggiest, thank you very much.


What are my fingers doing on the keyboard

💣 I tweeted a rant about homeless labor camps that I collected as a Storify for you: Plantations in the Hood

🚨 Read a draft on twitter of a poem about partiers in the Mission, which unhinges into a crime story: “From where I sit, the revelers”

🍆 I’ve picked up my pace posting photos on my Instagram. I take photos all the time, and they generally collect data dust. Not anymore, at least not this week. @tarintowers on Instagram

🌀 My vertigo is back; the room spins every morning, so I’m sharing this story with from a couple months ago, about packing while the world spins. Vertigo and Overwhelm on Medium

The gig future

I’ll be performing at a stand-up comedy show in July! Heavens to betsy, it’s been *ahem* years since I’ve done standup outside of an MC situation, and, er, like, I think that was once. I’m looking forward to it. More details when I have them. I’ll also be performing at LitQuake in October. Guess what? These are both shows with the theme of displacement or home or whatever. Which you know goes along with that whole “Why won’t you please stop talking about the fact that you got evicted” thing I wrote about a few weeks ago. Anyway, I perform as an MC, a poet, a storyteller, and so forth. You can book me if you want someone smart, funny, and sexy to add some spice to your stage, and plus it would look great in your press if you said you had a homeless person on the bill. displacementblues@gmail.com

The best things I’ve read since last we spoke

Paper products: The May issue of Harper’s and most of the May 18 New Yorker. I’m still not done with that futurism/capitalist hosanna about Marc Andreessen, which is like a horror story about funneling money. Paper: Reflected light is good for your eyes.

  • The Dicks of Our Lives (Buzzfeed) [NOTE: Quite possibly NSFM**, but really only the first few paragraphs.] Mary HK Choi describes herself as not a prude but not exactly forthcoming about her emotions, even to herself, and when she is taken by surprise by an ex—at a gathering to celebrate her own accomplishments, no less—she takes the opportunity, or dives into the abyss, more like, to question her entire raison d’être. In other words, she finds herself in a bar, contemplating an ex, wondering why she hasn’t had children. I can relate. I had other priorities my entire life, and then, whoops! It’s most likely too late, and it’s not so much a regret as a pause I have to take every once in a while. Whenever I happen to mention it, people tell me I can still adopt, so I no longer mention it. I’m not opposed to adopting a child; I’m not even ruling it out, although I imagine “Do you have a place to live” is pretty high up on the adoption questionnaire. What I am opposed to is telling people I’m okay with not having kids, only to have them tell me it’s not too late.
  • Searching for Forgiveness at Friendly’s (Eater) Like many chain family-style restaurants—Denny’s, Howard Johnson, Stuckey’s, Waffle House—Friendly’s often serves the “town diner” function that places without towns still need. By without towns, I mean the places along highways between any place with a semblance of place, the strips of highway that aren’t suburbs or exurbs or urbs at all, although these restaurants do exist on the outskirts of towns, near highway off-ramps, or in the kind of suburb that’s more of a very spacious mall for cars than it is a place meant for people. Keith Pandolfi grew up in the 80s with a freshly divorced dad as a single parent, and said dad was made more single and more divorced (if those are qualities of circumstance that infuse the expression of a personality) first by excessive drinking, and then by quitting. How Keith gets from nearly failing at school to a place where Friendly’s invokes flame-like nostalgia is a ride through the 12 Steps and the choices a person makes when they realize they have only narrowly avoided the wrong path.
  • After Water (Longreads) I don’t know if you’ve heard, but California is in one heck of a drought, one that’s lasted four years and counting, drying up wells, fallowing fields, and leaving people to make harrowing choices about home and livelihood. If your town dries up, what do you do with your house, for instance? In this illustrated essay, Susie Cagle travels from the Bay Area to the Central Valley, to East Porterville, to be specific, the little sister town to a barely thriving one that nevertheless has municipal water and local government in place. Cagle is visiting the first place in California that one of her recent ancestors landed when they fled the Dustbowl in Oklahoma, a disaster also caused by overextending the land for the demands of agriculture. She speaks to locals who haven’t given up, and alludes to those who are past giving up. Those of us who live in California but occupy one of the urban areas that’s already both a pro at conservation and an importer of water from Yosemite generally don’t hear mention of what’s going on in our own agricultural dustbowls. I spend a lot of time listening to public radio, specifically the California Report, which is a good way for Californians to keep in touch with the far-flung regions of the state, and so I’ve encountered figures like this before. I’ve also lived in rural places and have more than passing familiarity with the mindsets of farmers (such as my own grandfather). This might be an eye-opener if you’re not caught up on how the drought is not a hypothetical shortage to small farmers.
  • How to Fix a Racist Frat (Jezebel) Aside from starting over, you might ask? Maybe don’t just rebuild a single, racist frat at a university in the American South. Maybe don’t just rebuild the Greek system at that college so that the entire campus doesn’t reinforce each other’s policies of “different and therefore not good enough.” Maybe burn down those campuses and start fresh with administrations that don’t turn a blind eye to fraternity and sorority horribleness because Greeks are more likely to be generous alumni. Tear national Greek alumni organizations apart. Obliterate White Southern Pride. Undo the legacy of slavery that commits white people whose ancestors owned slaves to being conservative and intolerant. Undo the Confederacy. Undo slavery. Go back to the 1600s and smash capitalism and the idea of progress. Make the Enlightenment about enlightenment. Well. Kate Dries’s article shows just what Black students at Southern universities endure if they do—or don’t—pledge fraternities and sororities, and what (if anything) the people in power are doing to change that.
  • Your Scoop Doesn’t Matter (TKTK) Faithful readers have met my pal Sam Stecklow, AKA Steak, in these pages before, in the context of being a #teen and a good #friend. Steak is also a fine writer and a grizzled media critic at the ripe old age of 20, and this is his biggest article yet. Those of us who are media-obsessed might get more out of it, but his gist is important: In the age of new media, now that the Internet has decided that what time a paper hits the newsstand is immaterial to most people’s lives, the concept of the scoop is becoming more and more irrelevant. But worse than that, some outlets are claiming to have scoops when they are really just seconds or minutes ahead of the entire Internet reporting a story the specifics of which are becoming generally known. The first blog to tweet a headline is not necessarily providing original research or reporting, much less new news. A good read. Even if the editors did reword Steak’s colorful description of the Wall Street Journal as a trash pile.

Notes and Errata: I neglected to mention last week that Paul LaFarge is the one who turned me on to the history of aniline red when I chose it for the color of my walls back in 2009. *I saw a wedge of soft cheese at Bi-Rite for five and a half dollars but it was fun-sized, as the candy bar makers say. **NSFM means “Not Safe for Mom.”


Surely one of your friends is or has been the kind of homeless I am, couch surfing or housesitting or just “between places.” Send them this link, they’ll appreciate being counted.

Subscribe to Displacement Blues

You may also like...